Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Delhi Rape and the Great Indian Muddle Class: Hypocrisy Hundredfold




The hypocrisy of the Great Indian Muddle Class is a thing to behold.

Each time I come across it, each time I think that surely the Muddle Class can’t exceed this next time round, it does so routinely. Each time, without fail, the Muddle Class shows itself to be even more contemptible than one might imagine.

Three years ago I’d written about a particularly gruesome gang-rape in Delhi, which had inflicted such horrific injuries on the victim that she’d died in hospital several days later. That had set off a wave of “protests” across the country – “protests” which I’d characterised as not being directed at the rape itself, but at the simple fact that the perpetrators had been working-class village migrants and the victim had been of the Muddle Class. The victim – named “Nirbhaya” by the media, though her real name, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was an open secret anyone could have discovered with a ten second Google search – was turned into a kind of celebrity. And even though the law did not permit the death sentence to be applied to rape, the demand (this was before the victim died and the charge upgraded to murder) was for the rapists to be executed anyway.

As I’d said then:

It’s an absolute certainty that if the victim of the rape had been of the labourer set, there would have been as little reaction from the Muddle Class as there is when (as happens routinely) rich kids driving SUVs get drunk and crush homeless people to death. The Muddle Class doesn’t care about anyone but itself.

Accordingly, whatever the “protests” appear to be, they are not actually against the rapes – they are protests against the Muddle Class being made to feel vulnerable. No more, no less.

Sure enough, a year and a half later when two village girls, from the bottom layer of society, were gang raped and hanged to death – and the Great Indian Muddle Class scarcely turned a hair. The same people who had demanded the death penalty for the Delhi rapists didn’t stir a finger to even put up Fakebook status messages of sympathy. As I'd pointed out at the time, it was foreigners who were more disturbed than Indians.

Now, one of the perpetrators of the rape in Delhi in December 2012 was, at the time, a juvenile – 17 years old. Under Indian law as it now stands, offenders below the age of 18 are treated as juveniles, and, of course (like elsewhere in the world) are not subject to the same standards of punishment as adults. The media alleged – there is no independent confirmation of this whatsoever and therefore no reason to believe it – he was also the “most sadistic” of them all. Whether that is true or not – and, let me repeat, there is no reason to believe it is and plenty of reason to believe it is not – he was most certainly a juvenile at the time the crime was committed, and after detention of three years, his time of release came around at last.

Before I go any further, let me explain something clearly, in case someone thinks I’m condoning rape or excusing the criminal in this or any other case: I am not, actually, one of those who think that a criminal should get off lightly only on account of his age. It’s not as though at the age of 17 years 364 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes a person is a child, and, voila, 60 seconds later some kind of switch turns on in his head and he’s suddenly an adult. And it wouldn’t make any difference if the age at which one is to be considered a “juvenile” is reduced to, say, 16 years. There’s no switch that goes click.

(Incidentally, that’s a problem I have with voting as well; how does one seriously claim that a 17 year old is too young to understand the nuances of democratic choice, but just a year later magically does? I was politically aware at 14, and I know people in their sixties with the political knowledge of a chunk of rock.)

But the law is the law, and, besides, is a very well known law. It’s never been the case that people didn’t know that the age of being a juvenile is 18 or that juveniles are treated differently. And there’s never been any secret about the fact that once the three years of detention were up, the juvenile in this case would be released, or, to be more exact, would be placed in a programme with an NGO where his final status would be determined. No secret at all.

This is why what happened when the release date came around can only be described as a circus performance. The first was the decision by Jyoti Singh Pandey’s parents to declare her name to the world, saying that they had nothing to be ashamed of. This is of course true. They had nothing at all to be ashamed of. It wasn’t a stain on the girl’s morals that she was accosted on a bus, raped, brutalised, and ultimately murdered. But a simple question then arises: what exactly was holding the parents back from declaring the girl’s name to the world for the last three years, when she was being referred to in the media by such monikers as “Damini” or, much more frequently, “Nirbhaya”? As I said, her real name was no secret; it was known to the world from the start, and only those who actively didn’t want to know it could have avoided the knowledge. So why hold off for so long?

Perhaps because they wanted to catch the attention of the media and were waiting for the right time to come around?

That was just the start of the circus. As the release date grew closer, the “protestors” suddenly found their voice, brushed the dust off their placards, and demanded that the release be cancelled. On what legal basis this might happen, of course, they could not point out. All these years, they’d made no attempt to get the law changed to either lower the age of juvenility to 16, as they said they wanted, or to make certain crimes not applicable to the law. Even if they had done so, they could not have, as the Communist parliamentarian Brinda Karat pointed out, make it retrospective. You can’t punish a person for a crime he committed under a law which did not exist when said crime was committed. But of course the “protestors” ignored this.

In fact, what they really wanted is simple. They didn’t want a change in the law; that might have created problems for their own rich kids, who so frequently get roaring drunk at late night parties and run over, say, poor homeless people sleeping on the pavements. When that happens, or, similarly, when these kids rape poor women, then these same Muddle Class specimens are their first line of defence: they were “kids” who “didn’t know what they were doing” and the like. In this case, they certainly wanted no change in the law, which anyway wouldn’t have served their purpose; what they wanted in this instance was an exception to the law.

Can one say “hypocrisy”?

Three full days after the High Court passed down its verdict clearing the release of the juvenile (his name may or may not be Mohammad Afroz; I’ve not been able to confirm it), the “protestors” moved the Supreme Court, at midnight, to stop the release. There is, can be, absolutely no justification for this last moment, midnight appeal but theatricality. As even a Congress Party politician said, and this is one of the few instances when I find myself agreeing with a Congress politician on anything, it’s just “doing politics”. The Supreme Court, to its credit, did not stop the release, and the juvenile is no longer in custody now. It would have been a ludicrous pandering to the Muddle Class if an exception had been made to the law to suit its demands.

Even more ridiculously, a law is now supposed to be passed to bring down the age of juvenility to 16, but only for “heinous crimes”. What decides when a crime is “heinous”, I can’t tell you. From my own examination of death penalties in India, which are supposed to be restricted to the “rarest of the rare” cases, the only thing I could conclude is that one’s chances of being sentenced to death are dependent on one’s being (a) poor or (b) lower caste or Muslim. If one happens to be both poor and lower caste/Muslim, it’s just about a certainty, while the mega rich might not even be jailed for the same kind of offence.

Can one doubt that this will also be exactly what happens with the new law, assuming it is passed and the courts allow it to stand?

Let me make a prediction: Jyoti Singh Pandey’s parents are going to use her corpse as a stepping stone into politics. I won’t say that they have made any plans to do so yet, or that the idea has even entered their heads. But the idea has certainly entered someone’s head. Somebody is arranging and directing this circus, these so-called “protests”, with the full knowledge that they will be useless in their stated “aim” – to stop Afroz, or whatever his name is, from being released. Nothing of this kind happens by chance, and someone is determined to use it for gain. And the only kind of gain I can think of is political.

All we have to do is wait and see which political party turns this into a crusade, and snaps up the Pandeys as members. Then we’ll know. I'll bet you one of them will.

Readers might think I’m being too cynical. To which my response would be:

If you think I’m cynical, you don’t have much of a nodding acquaintance with reality, do you?


[Note: I am leaving this article without any photographic illustration. I can't seem to find any which adequately conveys my disgust towards the Great Indian Muddle Class, which, of course, is my primary target here.]

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